Chris Wyatt, Kureme, October 5th, 2019
One obvious and fascinating aspect of this Rugby World Cup in Japan is the presence of school children at the matches. At several games I have attended, multiple sections of the stadium have been full of school children. They are mostly from junior high schools and all wear school clothes or sports gear. This was most prominent at Kumagaya (both games I attended there) and at Shizuoka. These are organized groups of school kids. While it is interesting that the Japanese bring school children on organized outings to major international sporting events, the most exciting part of this to me is the potential for the future of rugby in Japan.
Already with over 1,500 rugby clubs and more than 120,000 registered rugby union players, rugby is part of the landscape here. But just imagine for a moment the potential from tens of thousands of 11 and 12-year-old kids introduced to the game for the first time at a world cup, a tournament where the host nation is rolling to victories too. The U.S. gold-medal over Finland (not the Soviets, that was an earlier game) at Lake Placid in the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” kick-started far deeper interest in ice hockey in America and look how far we have come today. The NHL has more franchise cities than ever, and the percentage of U.S. born players has skyrocketed since 1980. Japan will likely see a similar phenomenon going forward, in no small part thanks to the crowds of school children at Rugby World Cup 2019 no doubt.
It is very refreshing to go to a major sports event abroad and not be accosted by drunken football (soccer) hooligans. While we can not give Japan all the credit, after all, rugby fans are a well-behaved lot, to begin with, all these parents, chaperones and teachers escorting the school groups have done a fine job corralling their charges. The kids have been well behaved and added a wonderful touch to a, thus far, memorable world cup. World Rugby had trepidations about awarding the games to Japan. They saw it as a risk, one worth taking, but nonetheless, a risk. They need not have worried. The presence of smiling children enjoying themselves at these games is making a big difference with their school colors and pride, their engaging manner and enthusiasm.
As one who had to get in the queue and bid for tickets (repeatedly) over the past 20 months, I wonder how the organizers and World Rugby set this up. Clearly, all these kids sitting together was not accidental. Did Japan and World Rugby give them first bite at the apple? The groups are almost all sitting in category D seats (the lowest priced ticket type). If so, it does explain why some fans had to pay exorbitant prices for higher category seats. At many games, the number of D seats on offer must have been limited by the seats set aside for schools. In the future, World Rugby ought to have more transparency about ticket sales and let us know that entire sections of the venue are blocked off and not available to the public. This applies not only to these school children’s seats but also to those held back by the rugby unions and organizers.
Whinging about ticket sales aside, school kids and families have added a wonderful touch to a remarkable Rugby World Cup. It makes for a safe, fun and healthy sports experience. And for Japan, many of those kids will compete to wear a Brave Blossom jersey down the road. Well done Japan!
Chris Wyatt Photos
2019 Rugby World Cup articles by Chris Wyatt for DJCoil Rugby include:
- Different Cultures, Different Approaches
- Kumagaya Seals the Deal as “Rugby Town Japan
- Japanese Rugby Fans Making Rugby World Cup Wonderful
- Ireland dispense with Scotland with 27-3 bonus point victory in Yokohama
- The Real Heroes of Rugby World Cup
- The Eagles Frustrate Les Bleus and Do Us Proud
- Japan’s Family Friendly Rugby World Cup
Chris Wyatt is a guest journalist for DJCoil Rugby who is attending the 2019 Rugby World Cup. His periodic articles will provide another perspective for matches attended.